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Honoring Patrick Moynihan

The gritty, violent world of Hell's Kitchen in New York gave birth to the movie "The Gangs of New York."

According to legend, it also gave birth to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the senator, ambassador and scholar. And though Moynihan never had an official address in Hell's Kitchen, his early life paralleled its hard-scrabble reality.

Moynihan, 76, passed away on Wednesday from complications resulting from an appendix operation.

It will take much more than that, however, to ever kill his memory.

Moynihan rose from beginnings as a shoeshine boy, dockworker and bartender on the wings of his intellect. Every elegy and eulogy offered in this week has praised his diamond-like mind. It was a gem with many facets.

Moynihan loved history and won many debates by the fact he simply had more information than anyone else.

He also had a winking — at times piercing — Irish wit. "If you don't have 30 years to devote to social policy," he once quipped, "don't even get involved." He once said there was no point to being Irish if you didn't learn the lesson that the world will always break your heart.

Given his street roots, Moynihan became something of a swashbuckler. As an ambassador to India he was nicknamed the "Wyatt Earp of international politics" by a British diplomat. He used his edgy reputation to propel him into the Senate where, over time, he slowly drifted to the left and took on causes of the disadvantaged. Deft as he was, Moynihan did step into controversy several times. He once advised President Richard Nixon to practice a "benign neglect" on race issues. He also once thundered that doing away with religious teaching hospitals amounted to a "sin against the Holy Ghost."

In spite of his penchant for ruffling feathers, however, Moynihan was admired and loved by colleagues. He spoke in quick, flinty sentences and was known to enjoy a party and a round with the boys.

He leaves behind him an impressive array of books, not to mention volumes of quips and one-liners that American politicians will be spouting for years to come. Some have complained that Moynihan's record as a lawmaker never quite lived up to his rhetoric. But then Moynihan's rhetoric was so powerful, no lawmaker's record ever could.

On Monday, he is to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

Yes, he was a military man.

But that, lads, is another story well-worth telling later.